Pharmacy 2 at the Newport Street Gallery

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Twisted martini with an extra serving of Black Cow

Yesterday, we took a trip to Damien Hirst’s fantastic Newport Street Gallery. After enjoying the Gavin Turk exhibition across half-a-dozen galleries, we had lunch in the top floor restaurant, Pharmacy 2. The space is not huge, so booking ahead is recommended, but food, by Mark Hix, is absolutely worth the effort. The surroundings are very similar to the original Pharmacy, but the new space is dominated by an almost full-length bar, backed by an impressive bar display & a long molecule display (I’ll leave it to pharmacists to tell me what drug has been modelled). Tables are close together, but the feeling is one of intimacy, rather than crowding, due to the lightness and colour of the space.

One of the key features of the restaurant is the impressive cocktail list – from the popular Hix Fix to more unusual numbers such as the Dragon (cider brandy, Tanqueray gin & apricot brandy). As a big fan of Black Cow vodka, I settled on a simple vodka martini with a twist to go with lunch. The drink was beautifully made and presented in a small coupette, and served with a side of an additional small bottle of Black Cow on ice, to top up my drink – an unexpected touch which was really excellent. The drink was just perfect – very dry, and stirred to the correct combination of temperature and dilution.

The restaurant serves food all day, but after ten turns into a bar with music and a smaller menu to accompany the drinks. Well worth making a trip to Vauxhall for.

Obituary

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Obituary, from Richard Godwin’s The Spirits

More news recently of sad losses to our cultural life in the UK. A few weeks ago, Dick Bradsell passed away. He was a cocktail superstar in this country, the man who among many other drink-related innovations, created the espresso martini for a model who wanted a drink ‘to pick her up, then f*ck her up’ whilst tending bar at the Soho Brasserie. Dick obliged with the perfect mash-up of alcohol and caffeine that delivered on her request. And for anyone who visited any of his bars – like the now sadly defunct Detroit in Seven Dials – his cocktail DNA ran deep in every drink served. As with the death of Sasha Petraske last year, our drinking world is a poorer place without him.

The other departed hero of mine is the designer, Sir Ken Adam, who created some of the most remarkable sets for films in a long and very enviable career – particularly his long-running collaboration with the producers of the James Bond films – for whom he designed memorable lairs for super-villains, like the volcano base in You Only Live Twice.

I thought it was appropriate to raise a glass to both men – a cocktail seems a suitable salute to Bradsell, and I am sure that Sir Ken, who spent his time working on films that features one of our best-known cocktail drinkers, wouldn’t object to being acknowledged by a well-filled martini glass. The most suitable drink I found is the well-named Obituary, whose recipe I located in Richard Godwin’s excellent book, The Spirits. This is a properly ‘wet’ martini, where the vermouth plays an equal role to the gin, but what really perks this up is the lurking presence of peppery, aniseedy absinthe. It’s clear, clean drink, livened up by the single cherry. I don’t know the providence of the drink, or how it got its name, but the martini seems a suitable toast to two significant men. Salut!

Method:

Rinse a martini glass with a few drops of absinthe, or as I did here, absinthe bitters, and leave to cool in a freezer while you prepare the rest of the drink.

35ml of gin (Hendricks here)

35ml of French vermouth (in a nod to James Bond’s Vesper, I used Kina Lillet)

Stir the alcohols in a mixing glass, filled with ice. A few drops of orange bitters can be used at this point to tie the two together.

Strain the cooled mixture into the chilled glass, still wet with absinthe. Twist some lemon zest over the surface to mist the drink with lemon, then discard. Garnish with a single cherry. Drink while saluting absent friends.

 

 

Martini: Bombay Sapphire

20140315-225015.jpgAlthough I still think the Manhattan is my favourite cocktail, the close second has to be an ice-cold Martini. There is something about the sparseness of the ingredients and the purity in presentation that makes this a very elegant drink that delivers its alcohol kick with a degree of precision few drinks can match.

I have seen opinions that state that Bombay Sapphire is too floral or delicate for a Martini, and that drier, more robust gins, such as Tanqueray or Gordon’s are necessary. I don’t agree, but perhaps my view is slightly skewed by my bottle of Sapphire being an export-strength version, found in Malaysia. The extra alcohol perhaps counteracts the floral notes of their recipe; either way, I find it makes for a very crisp and refreshing Martini. Exactly what one looks for in this drink I think.

One other small note: whatever you do, don’t omit the bitters. A few drops of something to add an extra dimension of flavour is really effective in this drink. Traditionally, a citrus-style bitters is recommended, like Fee’s Orange. This time, I used my batch of Brad Parson’s BTP bitters that I made last month. The sour cherry notes of those bitters worked really well here.

Update: another cause for debate here is the quantity of vermouth. I really don’t believe that refracting the light through a vermouth bottle into the shaker works, neither Noël Coward’s trick of nodding in the direction of Italy nor Churchill’s of looking in the direction of the vermouth bottle gives the required results. By all means, add smaller or larger quantities of vermouth, but it has to be there; otherwise you are just drinking a glass of gin with an olive in it. That is not a cocktail. And it is the flavouring of the vermouth that modifies the gin into the Martini.

I stir my Martinis; for a debate on them whys and wherefores of the stirred/shaken debate, please take a look at my earlier post here. I just think the lack of ice shards in the drink, and the clarity of the liquid that results from a careful stirring gives for a better end result.

Proportions (using a jigger/pony measure):

1 jigger of Bombay Sapphire gin

1 pony of Noilly Prat vermouth

3 drops BTP ‘House’ bitters

Glass: 3oz Martini glass

The method is similar to the Vodka Martini I made earlier:

Stir vermouth together with ice in a Boston shaker jar and tip away around half the vermouth.  Add the gin, drops of bitters & stir again. Pour into a chilled Martini glass & garnish with a green olive, stone-in.

Shaken or stirred?

Entering into the shaken versus stirred debate with a cocktail purist without some prior preparation is much like making a Martini without preparation; the results are going to be disappointing for everyone.

The debate seems to have been around for ever, and to summarise the positions: the general theory is that shaking a drink results in a wildly different experience to stirring the same mixture, and that there are inherent superiorities in either method, depending on one’s particular views.

In popular culture, the starting point for all of this seems to be the famous request by James Bond for his Vodka Martini to be, ‘Shaken, not stirred’ (a quote wonderfully undermined in the re-boot of Casino Royale when an unhappy Bond snaps at the bartender’s query as to which way he wants his drink made with an angry, ‘Do I look like a give a damn?’). Since then, the shaken Martini has appeared cooler than the pedestrian stirred variety.

But the arguments for both sides have a few more planks than this, to wit:

• Shaking a Dry Martini produces a drink that is technically no longer a Martini; it becomes a Bradford. In reality, no-one I know uses the Bradford name any more, except perhaps scoring points for obscure knowledge.

• Shaking is a more brutal environment for the ice. Tiny fragments shatter off the cubes, resulting in lots of little pieces of ice in the drink. To some purists, this pollutes the drink; to others this creates a more refreshing, colder drink, with less water in the mix (the action of melting the ice during the mix means that up to a quarter of a Martini can be water (source: Rob Cassels, The Cocktail Keys).

• Stirring a drink is a gentler process, resulting in a drink that retains its clarity, whilst not being cooled to such an extent. A graphic example of this can be seen in Manhattan: Rye recipe versus my Manhattan: Bourbon recipe; I stirred the Rye-based drink, but shook the Bourbon – one can see the difference in appearance immediately.

• Some arguments are that the shaking bruises the gin/vodka/vermouth or whatever. I doubt this really means anything, but what shaking will do is introduce lots of little air bubbles into the mix, and much like letting a bottle of wine ‘breathe’ after opening, the act of letting air into a mixture can dramatically change the flavour of a drink.

Simple taste tests suggest that there is a point; a shaken Martini does taste different to a stirred one. Back in 2006, the LeisureGuy blog followed up on research in the New Scientist, which carried out a taste test on two Vodka Martinis, one using a potato-based vodka, the other with a grain-based spirit, and found there was a discernible taste difference between the two spirits. And going further than this,  the British Medical Journal has published a paper (BMJ 1999;319:1600) that studied the antioxidant effect of Martinis, as a result of their preparation method. Their conclusion? Shaking a Martini resulted in a lower proportion of Hydrogen Peroxide in the finished drink. Perhaps Bond was a health nut after all – he was famously sent to a health farm to recover & told Moneypenny that he was ‘On a mission to eliminate all free radicals’.

Fundamentally, the decision to reach for the shaker or the bar spoon will depend on one’s personal tastes. But a few points of my own:

• Stirring a Martini results in a clearer drink, but one that is not as cold as the shaken variety.

• A Vodka Martini tastes better to me when shaken, rather than stirred. The extra cooling action of the shaking seems to take the edge of the vodka. The notable exception to this rule is my experimentation with the Black Cow Vodka Martini recently; that tasted fine when stirred, but I had chilled the vodka in the ‘fridge before mixing.

• A Martini (i.e. made with gin) tastes discernibly better when stirred, not shaken. I do not like my gin cooled too much, and the mellower cooling of stirring seems to suit me better.

The Martini

Leisure Guy’s selfless testing of potato versus grain vodkas, and their effect on Vodka Martinis…

Later On

The Martini is among the best of cocktails, if not the best. (Cocktails, unlike highballs, are undiluted with water, juice, soda, etc.)

The Martini was so popular and well-known that Ian Fleming, to characterize James Bond as a person who flouted convention, had him favor a vodka Martini (a true Martini uses gin) and had it “shaken, not stirred.” Unfortunately, the “shaken, not stirred” line lived on in the public mind as Martini knowledge waned, so that today some believe that the Martini is supposed to be shaken and not stirred, a major mistake: if you use the Martini ingredients and shake rather than stir, you get not a Martini, but a Bradford, a drink that resembles the Martini except that it’s polluted with tiny ice chips that melt rapidly and dilute the taste.

UPDATE: The above paragraph is wrong, alas. Here’s the true reason why Bond wanted a (vodka)…

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Vodka Martini: Black Cow

Vodka Martini made with Black Cow vodka
Vodka Martini made with Black Cow vodka

I have to admit to no great fondness for flavoured vodkas, except for a good lemon flavoured version in a Cosmopolitan, but I was intrigued by the idea of Black Cow vodka. This is made from the whey produced in cheesemaking, and produces a very interesting creamy-flavoured vodka, which is perhaps not that surprising. I tried using it to make a simple vodka martini, adapting the recipe if found on the Black Cow blog from Joshua Linfitt, mixologist for the Fifteen restaurant in Cornwall. In Joshua’s recipe, he uses a vanilla-infused vermouth (which I also intend making, as I like the sound of it). Not having vanilla vermouth to hand, I made it the next best way: Noilly Prat vermouth, and a few drops of Bob’s Bitters re-boot of Abbott’s, with its powerful vanilla hit.  I garnished the drink with a large slice of orange peel in a nod to the original recipe. The results were absolutely gorgeous – the creamy vodka, vanilla bitters and citrus zest combine in perfect measures. This is an absolutely cracking drink, and one that deserves thinking about a proper name.

Proportions (using a jigger/pony measure):

1 jigger of Black Cow vodka, preferably ice-cold from the freezer

1 pony of Noilly Prat vermouth

3 drops Bob’s Abbott’s bitter

Glass: 3oz Martini glass

Stir vermouth together with ice in a Boston shaker jar and tip away around half the vermouth.  Add the vodka, drops of bitters & stir again. Pour into a chilled Martini glass & garnish with a large slice of orange zest.